Mustering Cattle on Brunette Downs
Brunette Downs is the largest single lease property in Australia, and one of the largest cattle stations, covering 12,500 sq kms and over 3.5 million acres. It is a station with a fascinating history – well known Australian cattle thief, Harry Redfearn, or “Captain Starlight,” drowned in one of the creeks in the north of the station in 1901 and is buried at the very spot. The annual Brunette Races draws huge crowds from hundreds of miles around, and this year celebrated its 100 year anniversary.
During the mustering season, from March to October, 50 staff rise around 5am, most of them heading into paddocks of up to 750 sq miles to muster cattle. Those left at the station do a range of jobs from looking after the 180 bore holes that provide much need water for 100,000 head of cattle, cooking for camps, gardening and flying choppers and aeroplanes to help the mustering process.
It was a fantastic place to spend a few days, marvelling at the sheer size of Australia, and learning a little about the outback way of life. The station is larger than some countries; suffice to say, during my three days here I have barely scratched the surface, but here are just a few photos of the place, its people and its bulls!
The yard outside the main buildings is vast itself – choppers and aeroplanes regularly land and take off, and an annual cricket match takes place here – shame it wasn’t scheduled during my visit.
Some stations use only modern mustering equipment – motorbikes and helicopters – but the Brunette team still opt for the versatile skills of a horse too. On our muster at the southern tip of the station, some 60kms from the main buildings, we took two trucks, two horses and three dirt bikes. It was suggested that I follow up the tail on my push bike…..but I didn’t. 35 knot winds buffeted the chopper all day. Rented by the hour, my guess is that a chopper doesn’t come cheap, but it was the clear winner in mustering efficiency.
Woody(pictured) has been mustering at Brunette Downs for four years. He sent three young jakaroos to muster a mob of 600, while he and the chopper pilot, Lachie, rounded up 700 head of cattle – all in a morning’s work.
Once the 1,300 (all bulls) were in the holding pen, some 700 were yarded for drafting later in the month. The best bulls will be given access to heifers to breed. The rest will be culled and sold for beef.
When the mustering was over, I was offered a ride back to the station buildings in the chopper. The Barkly Tablelands are definitely best seen from the air, although when I asked Lachie how many hours he had under his belt I would have preferred him to say 400 rather than 10.
The workers on the farm range from young workers….
to old-hand, experienced cowboys….
and passing cyclists doing their best to fit the cowboy mould but failing abysmally….
I am left Brunette Downs last Tuesday morning bound for the Barkly Homestead on the Barkly Highway. Since then I’ve been heading east, stopping at another cattle station, Avon Downs, for a couple of nights where I experienced a largely liquid diet. The headwinds have been relentless. I left Avon Downs yesterday and right now I’m lying under a mosquito net looking up at the stars and clearly visible milky way, and about to nod off after covering 100kms from Camooweal in Queensland. Tomorrow I reach Mount Isa, the first proper town since Darwin nearly four weeks ago.
Please keep donating to my two chosen charities. Only 60,000 pounds to go now!